News Column

Dramaworks' 'La Mancha' an imaginative tale

July 14, 2013


If the notion of a concert presentation conjures images of a staticline of singers at music stands, come have your mind changed byPalm Beach Dramaworks.

The West Palm Beach company has devoted its summer to a couple ofclassic musicals, beginning with 1965's celebration of idealism,"Man of La Mancha." Directed inventively by Clive Cholerton, whoquickly draws the audience into this tale of the 16th- centurySpanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes and his fictionalcreation-alter ego, Don Quixote de La Mancha, the show may not befully staged, but it is fully satisfying.

The work seems well suited to the concert format, for even theoriginal New York production took place on a bare stage. Throwninto jail to await trial by the Inquisition, Cervantes improviseshis epic story of a deluded, windmill-tilting knight errant,casting it with the other prisoners, using found objects to furtherthe narrative.

So the show already calls on our imaginations instead of relying onscenic effects, and the intervening nearly half century has donelittle to dampen the musical's impact.

Here much of that power comes from Broadway veteran WilliamMichals, who dominates the concert as Cervantes/Quixote, boominghis baritone through The Big Number -- "The Impossible Dream" -- aswell as caressing a softer song like "Dulcinea," his name for thescullery wench, Aldonza. Beyond his singing, Michals makes us careabout Quixote's plight, particularly in the death scene finale.

West Palm native Alix Paige returns home to play Aldonza, slippingsmoothly between her chest and head voices as the Mitch Leigh-JoeDarion score requires and giving a feisty rendering of hereleventh-hour aria.

The rest of the cast hails from South Florida, notably Oscar Cheda,whose sidekick Sancho Panza avoids the Borscht Belt cadences of hiscomic relief numbers and punch lines.

In a couple of Cholerton's offbeat casting strokes, the versatileNick Duckart handles the female role of the Housekeeper and,oh-why-not, the traveling barber also gets a gender change,performed with flair by Leah Sessa.

The scenery is strictly bare bones, but another inspired touch is acentral revolving platform, often set in motion manually byCervantes manservant (also Cheda) in stage manager mode. The restof the scene-setting is left to the dozens of artful slideprojections, created and gathered by Sean Lawson.

Just as the concert staging has been expanded, so is the musicalaccompaniment. Caryl Ginsburg Fantel conducts and plays keyboard,heading a three-piece combo of guitar (Greg Chance) and percussion(Roy Fantel).

Dramaworks absolutely brings "Man of La Mancha" alive -- horses,windmill and all. (Buy a ticket to see how.) If you do, chances areyou will be standing at the curtain calls, just like Wednesday'sopening night audience was.

MAN OF LA MANCHA in concert


Where: Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach.

When: Through July 21.

Tickets: $35. Call: 561-514-4042.

The verdict: A hardly static concert version of the enduring,stirring Quixote musical, cleverly staged by Clive Cholerton with astar-quality performance by William Michals.

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